Last November Shape King launched his music project. With only one single released, there was little known about the guy behind the project. We like a bit of mystery to our discoveries. But now with the second release, we have the urge to know more about him. So we asked, and here is the story of how and why Raphael Peterson started Shape King.
As with most musicians, Raphael Peterson has early memories of music. Some of his earliest memories are of his parents singing lullabies to him. And he remembers listening to the Beatles album “St. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” on his parents’ record player when he was very young. He also started playing instruments at a young age. “I started taking piano lessons when I was five years old. In middle school, I picked up the bass guitar and started a band with a few friends. We played covers and a few originals”, he tells us.
In college, he studied mechanical engineering, but that wasn’t for him. Eventually he decided New York was the place to be. He left hometown Oakland and transferred to Columbia University, where he studied orchestration, composition and theory. He graduated with a music degree. From the way he talks about the process of creating music as an art, you can tell he is educated and put a lot of thought to it.
“I approach music like collage, in that I’m assembling diverse sound bytes into cohesive pictures. By combining sounds that invoke different genres, eras, and styles of recorded music, one can create a rich picture. Because you can access any sound and use it in a song, you can make very clear sonic “arguments”.
Ever since he’s been in New York, he is working on various musical projects as a mixer, arranger, and engineer. One of them is his DADO project, which he uses to explore the interaction between audio and video. On his YouTube channel are some great audio visual experiments. As DADO he actually wrote his second Shape King single “Odyssey”, as a short clip on the Tumblr page proves. He retracted all other sonic experiments which he recorded as DADO from Soundcloud. Next to the music, Peterson also creates collages from magazine adverts as social commentary.
There is one reason why Peterson started his Shape King project: to make music and sound-art without creative limitations. It allows him to try out ideas he has about sound, form, and integrating a wide breadth of source material. “The music is a mixture of field recordings, synthesizers, live takes with acoustic instruments, and sounds like youtube rips, stock samples, and background noise of home-recording in New York City.”
Besides his approach of creating sound collages, Peterson also has a love for songwriting. Songs should have an emotional flow and hold the listener’s attention. Inspiration comes from different sources. It can be visual things like the shapes of buildings and trees, or the movement of bodies in space. It can also be interesting sounds or the way people talk, he says. “The seed of a song could also come from an improvisation, or rhythm, or a feeling. Sometimes I’m trying to copy a song I heard that I liked, or replicate a historical recording process that I read about. Most lyrical ideas come from playing with words that I think sound good together.”
As mentioned in the introduction, Shape King’s debut single “We Are Together” was released in November 2015, with “Odyssey” following last month. Here are the reviews of the two songs.
“We Are Together” is an energetic electropop song with a lot of playful retro sounds. These are samples, glitches and 8-bit sounds. The accompanying music video has a retro look with 80s-like computer animations. In the video we see Peterson proclaiming the timeless message of Unity & Love, in an eccentric style reminiscent of Talking Heads‘ lead singer David Byrne. The message is reinforced by all sorts of drawings flying by: people & animals, countries & flags, and of course… our beloved globe. You will immediately cheer, ready to celebrate life! “Peace, Unity, Love and Having Fun”, it’s all here on this fantastic debut single!
The second single is also inventive and danceable, but with a serious message: the exploration of today’s society. Peterson lets the Greek mythological hero Odyssey continue his quest for home, but now in the 21st century. He sees, experiences and reflects; on moral decay, environmental issues and the state as a control machine. The music video contains floating images of oceans, clouds and space. It’s actually soothing, so it won’t distract you from the song’s message. This way, Peterson wraps up his social commentary in a clever way. Because in the end, not only the funky groove of the track lingers, but above all the universal message of having the individual power to do something about your social and living environment.
“I want something better than that. I lost my intuition, but I’m getting it back.”